The good news is that a much-admired tenor is back in the studio as well as on stage after surgery on his vocal chords three years ago. The bad news is that Rolando Villazón’s return to recording is likely to be a disappointment to any but diehard fans of the Mexican-born tenor.
In a swift canter through Verdi’s operas, from Oberto to Falstaff, you scarcely ever hear how the composer developed his ideas about the tenor voice. Nor do you hear his changing approach to character through half a century of writing for the stage. If the true Verdian tenor is forever torn between thought and deed, Villazón is all action, like a steeplechaser always looking for speed as he races towards the next jump. The tempos that he and his conductor, Gianandrea Noseda, set for Alfredo’s ‘Lunge da lei… De’miei bollenti spiriti’ – just one stanza – makes a nonsense of recitative and aria alike, and the cabaletta is downright coarse. Where is the shading in the voice, the tone and, above all, the characterisation of each role? Villazón’s Jacopo in I due Foscari sounds no different from his Fenton from Falstaff.
Maybe the DG engineers put their artist too close to the microphone so as to ease his vocal production; when, from further back, Villazón tackles Riccardo’s Act I entrance aria from Un ballo in maschera, the result is more satisfying.